Orioles fall to Guardians, 5-2, reducing AL East lead to 1.5 games as boom-or-bust September continues

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Orioles manager Brandon Hyde did not hide his rooting interests after watching the Tampa Bay Rays rally for an afternoon victory against the Los Angeles Angels.

“We just came up a little short,” Hyde quipped, as if he or his players had any role to play in the Angels blowing a late lead to the team chasing Baltimore in the American League East.

Come Thursday night, Hyde could have described his actual team’s outcome the same way. The Orioles came to life in the eighth inning to even their series opener with the Cleveland Guardians, only to surrender three runs in the next half inning in a 5-2 loss. Paired with the Rays’ victory, Baltimore’s lead in the division race fell to 1 1/2 games, with the club’s magic number remaining at seven.

The loss continued an uncomfortable trend for the Orioles (95-58) as the postseason approaches. In 20 September games, they have gone undefeated in the 12 contests they have scored at least five runs, scoring three or fewer in their other eight games and losing each. Baltimore hasn’t won with fewer than four runs since Aug. 12.

All three runs in the game’s decisive frame belonged to Cionel Pérez, who hit the first batter he faced before allowing a walk and a single to load the bases. Jacob Webb entered and walked a run in. Then, after the Orioles got a force out at the plate, Bo Naylor blooped a ball to right field, with it falling for a hit as second baseman Adam Frazier’s attempt at an over-the-shoulder catch with his back to the infield was unsuccessful. Frazier had to range 105 feet to make the catch and covered the distance, while right fielder Aaron Hicks, who missed the past two games with a hamstring cramp, needed to go 113 feet to his left but managed to jog only 94.

Runners advanced one base each on the flub, with a run-scoring groundout following. After another walk from Webb, Hyde called on his third reliever of the inning and fifth of the game, with José Ramírez flying out to the warning track off Mike Baumann to end the inning.

Baltimore got its first two runners on in the ninth but was unable to capitalize, as Gunnar Henderson flew out to left field to end the game.

For much of the night, it seemed the two runs Cleveland (73-81) plated in rookie starter Grayson Rodriguez’s fifth inning would be the difference in the game, only for the Orioles to even it with their own pair three innings later. Pinch-hitter Heston Kjerstad continued his strong start to his major league career with a single, and after Ramón Urías pinch-ran, Adley Rutschman and Ryan O’Hearn doubled around an RBI groundout from Anthony Santander.

The Orioles otherwise did nothing with their scoring chances. Right-hander Hunter Gaddis, making his first major league appearance since late August, retired Baltimore’s first eight hitters before Jordan Westburg drew a 13-pitch walk. Henderson worked another free pass before Rutschman singled off Gaddis’ right leg for the Orioles’ first hit, but Santander flew out to leave the bases loaded. A one-out double from Rutschman in the sixth also went to waste.

The story was similar for the Guardians early. They put multiple runners on in three of Rodriguez’s five innings. A double play got Rodriguez out of a first-and-third, no-out jam in the second, and he stranded a pair of two-out runners in the third. But after striking out the side in the fourth, Rodriguez issued a leadoff walk in the fifth, and a pair of one-out singles from Steven Kwan and Ramírez plated a run. Kwan then scored on Josh Naylor’s sacrifice fly.

Cleveland fouled off 37 of Rodriguez’s pitches Thursday, the second-most foul balls an Orioles pitcher has allowed in an outing since pitch tracking began in 2008. More than half the 73 strikes Rodriguez threw were batted away, driving up his pitch count in an otherwise effective outing. In 12 starts since returning the Orioles’ rotation out of the All-Star break, the 23-year-old has a 2.66 ERA.

This story will be updated.

Orioles at Guardians

Friday, 7:10 p.m.

TV: MASN2

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

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